Sunday, July 08, 2018

2018 General Convention, Day 5

The headline news coming out of convention today is that the House of Deputies, by a relatively narrow vote-by-orders, sent to the House of Bishops a resolution calling for a thorough process of revising the Book of Common Prayer. By all accounts, there will not be a first reading of a revision until 2027; hence, if this goes forward, it would become the 2030 Prayer Book. I will be 79 years old by then, so my personal stake is a diminishing one.

The bishops will get it sometime soon, maybe as early as tomorrow, certainly by Monday, I would say. I'm not going to handicap the outcome of that debate. Every bishop I've spoken with about it is skeptical at the very least, but I may just not be hanging out with the right people to get a different result.

In any case, this is very troubling. Again, no hard data to substantiate this, but the anecdotal evidence suggests that the primary impetus for revision comes from aging/aged Baby Boomers, and that the lower you go in the age demographic, support for revision decreases. I'm not a big fan of my own generation. Having been told we were "special" our whole lives--they even build a raft of new schools just for us--we were initiated into adulthood by bucking the establishment, and now as we still hold many (most?) of the reins of power across government and societal institutions, and before that power slips away, there seems to be a keenness to leave one final lasting mark in our wake. What's better than a Prayer Book that will shape the public prayers of at least a couple of generations?

I am not, in concept, absolutely opposed to the notion that the 1979 Prayer Book could be improved.  I have my own list of recommendations, though I expect they would not track very closely with those that the supporters of revision have in mind. 

But I simply have no confidence that the Episcopal Church of today, or of the next several years, is capable of producing a (literal or digital) volume that can bear the freight that it needs to carry. The 1979 book is the fruit of a sort of "perfect storm" of theological ferment, historical research, and ecumenical warmth that had been brewing for decades and peaked just a few years after it was issued. Now we are in an era of ideological purity instead of rich theology, academic stagnation instead of paradigm-shifting scholarship, and an ecumenical winter with the ecclesial rock from which we as Anglicans were hewn, the one with which we have the most in common in the area of liturgy and sacraments, the Roman Catholic Church. The Episcopal Church remains in sharp decline. We are battle-scarred from a decade-and-a-half of conflict and litigation. The great majority of those who voted in the House of Deputies today, and the great majority of now-sitting bishops, will be at least retired in 2030, if not pushing up daisies. How is this not the worst possible time to undertake something as arduous, incendiary, and expensive as revising the Book of Common Prayer?

As youth, Baby Boomers chafed under the authority of establishment adults. But we counted on the fact that there were adults, people who knew how to fix broken stuff, to take charge and make things happen. Now we're supposed to be the "adults in the room," but we're not. We may use a cane to walk, or be clients of the Scooter Store, but we too often behave like entitled young punks. We demand justice for every conceivable oppressed group, but we don't know how to actually be just. When I was 19, I was sure the "revolution" was coming. Now in my mid-60s, we finally seem to have confected it in the Episcopal Church, but I feel alienated from my own generation.

The reluctance of the majority to even be kind, let alone just, toward the theological minority in TEC arises, perhaps, from acute annoyance about the secular political environment. The progressive orthodoxy that is so regnant among Episcopalians, now having long shed the moniker "Republican Party at prayer," is deadlocked in a stalemate with the populist-conservative axis. Theological conservatives (some of whom are socialist-leaning Democrats!) present an appealing target for ths pent-up ire. Revolutions have little tolerance for ideological complexity, and they eventually consume their own. 

Of course, Prayer Book revision comes with a price tag, estimated to be nearly $2 million, just for the coming triennium. Multiply that by four for the length of the projected process, and that's without actually having printed a single copy of the new book! All resolutions that ask for funds in the budget of the DFMS eventually end up in front of the Joint Committee on Program, Budget, and Finance (PB&F). We're seeing several resolutions that call for the creation of new staff positions, each of which runs $300,000-400,000 for the triennium. There's eventually going to be a train wreck at PB&F. So, even if the Bishops follow the lead of the Deputies, Prayer Book revision still has to run that gauntlet. This is not a done deal yet. Or I may just be thinking wishfully.


Greg said...

Bishop Martins, I read an article by a Generation X Episcopalian who said that one day after church the rector excitedly told him that the next week they were going to have a jazz quartet at the Eucharist. He said that she was a Baby Boomer and seemed to believe that he would be impressed with a jazz quartet at the Eucharist because of his youth. He said that he did not want to tell her that he was not impressed and that he preferred a traditional liturgy. Other young people that I know of have said similar things. They like Gregorian Chant, candles, ancient liturgy and incense. I have been reading recent comments from Baby Boomers saying that we need to give a new Prayer Book to young people that reflects today’s church. I do not believe that they are asking young people what they want and what kind of Prayer Book they would like to use. I agree with you. It seems like the Baby Boomers desire to create a new Prayer Book because that is what they want. I am a social liberal and I am theologically orthodox. It looks like you and I are both going to be devoured by the revolution.

Unknown said...

Add me to the group. As a 67 year old “Boomer” that adopted this church in 1971 (a sometimes Methodist) because of the richness of its liturgy and its willingness to allow free thought about “the faith”, I am saddened by the HoD action. My prayer is that the bishops will live into their unique role as “guardians of the faith.”

Stand firm Bishop Dan.

Ad Majorem Dei Gloriam!

Meditation Meister said...

Minority Report (literally) I recently retired from a parish of 1/3 African American, 1/3 African Carribean,and 1/3 Northeast USA retirees. We had Jazz Eucharists for 10 years. We attracted the most diverse new members I have seen since my ordination in 1972. Think about that.

Tregonsee said...

Bishop Martins, I am a fellow (age 69) "Boomer" who has long considered my own generation "The Worthless Generation." I found your indictment which I reread several times with increasing appreciation, spot on both from a secular and religious standpoint. I truly share your anguish, as it is my own, at the amount of damage "we" have caused in the endless search for "relevance."

I have no doubt of the eventual outcome, but am human enough to want to see the current cycle turn upward in my lifetime. Your testimony that the younger generations have more reasoned views is one of the few I cannot dismiss as wishful thinking. While it is no longer this cradle (former) Episopalian's concern, I still have affection and prayers for what was, and with God's Grace will be again.

Dale Matson said...

"Having been told we were "special" our whole lives--they even build a raft of new schools just for us--we were initiated into adulthood by bucking the establishment, and now as we still hold many (most?) of the reins of power across government and societal institutions, and before that power slips away, there seems to be a keenness to leave one final lasting mark in our wake."
Who is the "we" you are talking about? Many of us baby boomers are Vietnam era veterans who worked in the skilled trades. I was a plumber for 17 years. I think there were and remains two threads of baby boomers. There are the ones you are familiar with and talking about and the ones I am familiar with who make up a sizable group also. There is no self loathing on my part nor am I ashamed of those I know from my cohort. I don't believe our generation is any better or worse than those that preceded it or will follow it.

Undergroundpewster said...

There are a considerable amount of talented, hard working, theologically orthodox boomers out there who could create a new Prayer Book without having to spend millions of dollars to do so. They just aren't attending the General Convention.

Kofi Wing said...

I will repeat my comment from over at Bishop Matt Gunter's blog:

Two quotes came to mind as I read this:
"God created man in his own image and ever since, man has tried to return the compliment." - Attributed to various source

"A God without wrath brought men without sin into a kingdom without judgment through the ministrations of Christ without a cross." -H. Richard Niebuhr

Also, talk of "the Spirit" is suspicious. Notice the absence of the word "Holy." When the ruling class of TEC talks about "the spirit," it seems they are talking about the Zeitgeist, which in turn brings me to another quote:
"Whoever marries the spirit of this age will find himself a widower in the next." -W.R. Inge

Richard+ said...

As self-proclaimed President of the Society for the Preservation of the Book of Common Prayer (1979), I find your argument very convincing.

Michael Clark said...

I would be interested in BCP revision, but I concur with your assessment Bishop Martins that we do not currently have a mandate through serendipity of theological ferment and liturgical commitment. We like the idea of BCP revision because we think the LGBT persons need it, but that's not a robust theological focus. That's what's missing, a grand theological vision that would unite our efforts. Instead, I think it would be piecemeal and partisan. We should revise someday, but not today.